Best TV of 2022: 'The White Lotus,' 'Andor,' 'Atlanta' and more
Twenty twenty-two was a great year for TV but also a great year for too much TV. Where (oh where) to begin? At least these shows made the choices easier. Here's my list for 10 best series in a year that overflowed with excellence.
1. "Better Call Saul" (AMC)
"Saul" wrapped six seasons with a reminder (or affirmation) that change is possible while character isn't necessarily destiny. But what made this last season so resonant was that deeper exploration of fate and human agency in an indifferent universe — or a divine one, rough-hewed as that divinity might seem at times.
2. "Andor" (Disney +)
Arriving late in 2022, this Tony Gilroy ("Bourne" trilogy) prequel to "Rogue One" (2016) and the original "Star Wars" (1977) reprised Diego Luna's rebel spy from the film. Along with a first-rate cast and creative team, Gilroy both re-imagined and reordered the original "Star Wars" themes, and did so thrillingly, while his steampunk masterpiece explored questions of power, and freedom, in ways the George Lucas rootstock only seemed to scratch at.
3. "The White Lotus" (HBO)
The second season improved upon the first, while the shock ending set up a whole new "White Lotus" for the third. Like the first, it worked flawlessly on all the obvious levels — eye candy, comedy, sex romp — but a deeper, darker theme clarified them. This "White Lotus" was about the lies we tell ourselves, until forced by circumstances (or the truth) they can be told no more.
4. "Atlanta" (FX)
The finale, "It Was All a Dream," was a genuinely hilarious sendup (within a sendup) of the old "It Was All a Dream" TV trope, leaving fans with the real possibility that the whole series took place inside Darius' (LaKeith Stanfield) fevered, or pot-addled, brain. Maybe it did (or didn't) but, in the meantime, some of the non-dream episodes — notably "Andrew Wyeth. Alfred's World" — were even funnier.
5. "The Dropout" (Hulu)
As part of that long tradition of movies ("The Hudsucker Proxy '') and TV shows (''Silicon Valley") about corporate moonshine, "The Dropout" added something new or someone new. Amanda Seyfried was so good as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes that it felt as though we'd finally met the real person face to face — the distaste of the encounter only sharpened.
6. "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" (Paramount +)
The Star Trek cinematic universe spent decades seeking new spinoffs and franchises, to boldly go where the rest of TV has since gone (you know — reboots!) But at long last, here was the spinoff (from "Discovery") that felt like the embodiment of that famous line, to paraphrase: After all our watching, we'd arrived back where we started from and knew the show for the first time. With Anson Mount as Capt. Chris Pike — a proto Jim Kirk, — "Strange New Worlds"' mostly just reaffirmed our love for the original.
7. "We Own This City" (HBO)
Reuniting the three collaborators from "The Wire" — George Pelecanos, Ed Burns and David Simon — who adapted the nonfiction book by former Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton — this brilliant series was about the corrupt Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force, but chiefly about how corruption flourishes when no one bothers to act as watchdog. As such, "City" was a timely reminder of the importance and vitality of U.S. newspaper journalism.
8. "Abbott Elementary" (ABC)
This mockumentary about teachers who battle bureaucrats and burnout while still finding something funny (and relatable) in the fray has seemed more sure-footed (or flat-out funnier) than the first season. Meanwhile, its fundamental optimism — a rare quality anywhere this past TV season — remains intact.
9. "Only Murders in the Building" (Hulu)
A superior second season followed the cues, or blood trail, to the demise of "Bun-Bun" down secret passageways in the Arcadia, to an ending we should have seen coming all along. But the chief pleasure remained the non-mystery stuff, to wit, that second act of two classic comedians, Martin Short and Steve Martin.
10. "Gaslit" (Starz)
In a terrific performance as compulsive Watergate truth-teller and future drag style icon Martha Mitchell, Julia Roberts played her initially for laughs, then pathos and finally tragedy. Best of all, the fundamental decency — and humanity — of Mitchell was at long last restored.